Pakistan's first-ever representative at the Miss Universe pageant has vowed to be "an ambassador for peace and goodwill", even as news of her participation sparks backlash in her country.
"I want to show the beautiful side of Pakistan, away from all the negativity and hate that we see on some media outlets," Erica Robin tells The National. "I also confirmed numerous times that I will wear a burkini as I have an immense respect of our culture – and it’s also my personal choice."
Robin, 24, a model from Karachi, won the title last month, and will be the first to represent Pakistan at the global competition, one of the longest-running and most-watched beauty pageants, now in its 72nd year.
But her participation has raised some eyebrows in Pakistan, prompting caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar ul-Haq Kakar to order an investigation last month.
But much of the outrage seems to be misplaced.
While some detractors have spoken out against the contest's swimsuit round, it is not mandatory for Miss Universe contestants to wear bikinis on stage. At the Miss Universe 2021 pageant, Bahrain representative Manar Nadeem Deyani was greeted with loud cheers during the swimsuit round when she walked out in a fully covered and flowing activewear outfit.
Critics have also questioned why a company not affiliated to the government was allowed to choose a representative from Pakistan. However, as per Miss Universe rules, anyone can own the franchise to host a local pageant. For instance, Yugen Group, which is based in Dubai, owns the rights to Miss Universe Pakistan as well as Miss Universe Bahrain and Miss Universe Egypt.
Robin, who is from Pakistan's minority Christian community, says Miss Universe is a great platform to "showcase the best of what women can achieve in any field they have chosen".
"This platform has evolved to advocate and empower causes to make the world a better place to live," she says.
"A lot of people have asked me why I wanted to stay in Pakistan; my answer is very simple – it is my home," she adds. "It is the place where I am grateful to live and where all my dreams came true. It’s not perfect, but I feel I should spread the message of positivity and highlight the goodness in my country, because there is a lot to celebrate in Pakistan."
Reigning Miss Universe R'Bonney Gabriel from the US will crown her successor at the next Miss Universe pageant to be held in El Salvador in November. More than 80 countries are set to be represented at the competition, to be spread across a number of weeks, with the winner crowned at a glitzy finale on November 18.